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Thursday, March 30, 2023

For Marcie Hampton, there are no more long practices with 13 other players who she has come to call "sisters."

No more road trips to Fayetteville, Ark., or Starkville, Miss.

No more launching miniature volleyballs into the O'Connell Center stands during the blacked-out player introductions.

Though her storied four-year career with UF came to an end after suffering a ruptured left Achilles' tendon in the Gators' final regular season match against Long Beach State in 2007, Hampton isn't done with volleyball in Gainesville.

The former outside hitter has taken an assistant coaching job at P.K. Yonge High, where she and current UF standout Elyse Cusack once graced the same hardwood.

"It's really cool being in the old gym that I used to play in," Hampton said. "The pictures of our state championship teams are up, it's neat to go back to where it all began."

The step backward into her past was made, in part, because fate took away her ability to step forward into her future.

Hampton had aspirations of going out on top, winning UF's first-ever national championship and then making a seemless transition to a professional career overseas.

But recovering from the injury has proven to be a long and taxing process, which she still has yet to complete.

In the meantime, Hampton's competitive nature, and need for a job, made high school coaching a perfect stop for her.

UF coach Mary Wise frequently teased her during her playing days that she would become a coach because she loved the game too much.

"It's a lot different," Hampton said of coaching and playing. "I've enjoyed coaching more than I thought I would, it's a lot more than sitting there telling the girls what to do."

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The girls she works with make the job fun for her, and it's allowed her to stay around the sport that was taken away from her, something she's only recently come to grips with.

"I try to tell myself everything happens for a reason," Hampton said. "You put so much of your life, blood, sweat and tears into it, and you finally get to the point where you're playing well, and your team is playing well, and it doesn't work out."

Hampton and the Gators were robbed of one last postseason run, something her teammates never saw coming.

"To have her go down was really hard for our team and for me," said Cusack, who first played with Hampton as an eighth grader. "You can look back and say maybe we could've gone farther."

In the end, UF was unable to capture a national title before losing Hampton, Amber McCray, Angie McGinnis and Kisya Killingsworth to graduation.

Some thought that nucleus of players had what it took to finally bring home that elusive championship, but Hampton is optimistic that the new group of Gators will be able to get it done.

"It's just a matter of time," she said. "They have the talent, and they have the coaching."

Cusack said that if the team is able to pull it off in her time at UF, the feat would be something for everyone to share.

"It would be an honor for me, but it would mean so much to all the previous players, doing something that they worked so hard for but just couldn't get," she said.

If they ever do hoist that elusive banner into the rafters, you can bet Hampton will have a front-row seat.

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